Once upon a time, in perhaps another world (sometimes it seems like it to me!), I received my income by secular employment. That’s right; because I did not begin to work with a church as a located preacher till I was almost 30. During my early adult years I was not the Lord’s man and by that I don’t mean I was not a Christian because I was, but only in the sense that I received no financial support from the church for doing the work of preaching the gospel. Of course, gospel preachers are entitled to receive such support and usually depend upon it for their livelihood (as did Paul the apostle: Philippians 4:15&16; 2Corinthians 11:8; Acts 28:30; 1Corinthians 9:14, “Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel.”). For me the change from secular work to being dependent upon the Lord for a livelihood was really quite great. But there is more to this idea and I’d like to bring you to my point by explaining how I come to this.
Back then my own father, a preacher of many years was my main influence as a spiritual mentor and guide. That is not so unusual in the Lord’s church and seemed normal to me. He himself had enjoyed two mentors in his development not only in his time of “apprenticeship” but also in his first number of years actually as a preacher working on his own; and though one of these good men had passed on years before he liked to stay close to the surviving one. This man was named John Hedge.
Brother Hedge, which is all any of us ever called him, was a true old timer. This venerable saint of the Lord preached for many years and when I finally met him, was in his 90s. Dad had told me about him all of my life and always he had spoken with great respect for this elderly Christian and gentleman. Brother Hedge had worked with many churches in East Texas and was well known in that sphere of brotherly influence. He had taught public school and also worked as a postmaster but always he preached the gospel and helped to guide young preachers by encouraging them and studying with them.
One day in about 1980 I believe, a couple of years before I decided to be a gospel preacher, my father telephoned me because he knew I was off that day from work. After we talked for a minute he asked me if I would like to go with him to see Brother Hedge. He reminded me that his old mentor was very aged and would leave this life soon. Since the opportunity to meet him had escaped me to this point, would I like to go with him to see him so I could finally shake his hand? I readily agreed and we met at my parent’s home in Henderson and then drove to Longview, which is less than 30 miles away.
Dad told me that Brother Hedge, a widower, now lived with his son’s family there in Longview and that he was not able to think clearly any longer and was fading fast, suffering the effects of his advanced age. When we knocked on the front door, Brother Hedge’s kindly daughter-in-law warmly greeted us and told us he was out in the vegetable garden at the back of the house and we were welcome to walk around there and see him if we wished.
As we rounded the back of the house, we noted that the garden was inside a low fence and various familiar vegetables were growing; pole beans, tomatoes, onions, cabbages. The well tended rows were perfectly weedless and had seen lots of diligent work with a hoe. Standing with one hand on the end of the hoe and leaning to catch his breath was Brother Hedge.
Tall and lean, well over six feet, totally white headed, and though elderly, relatively unbowed by age, Brother Hedge was impressive and unforgettable. As we got to him he looked searchingly at my father’s face trying to determine who this was who had come to see him this morning. For a long moment I feared he would not recognize Dad. As they shook hands his sea-blue eyes suddenly sparkled with happy recognition and he chuckled and said my father’s name with joy, “Truman, is that you?!”
As gentlemen of the old school they did not hug like we would today but they warmly shook each other’s hands, the “right hands of fellowship” you know, and grasped the other’s shoulders with their free left hands and laughed joyfully in affectionate reunion. But as they began to talk, it was quickly evident to my father and even to me, that Brother Hedge was not fully himself any longer. The present world was fading from him and it seemed as if his feet did not quite touch the ground solidly anymore as he belonged to another realm and was only to be here a bit longer.
Now I had never actually met him but even in his disconnectedness he knew I must be the son of his old acolyte. Dad was himself now about 50 years old and certainly a “journeyman” having preached since he was 14 years old. After a few moments of their face to face conversation, he very deliberately turned to look at me and he fastened his ancient rheumy eyes upon mine looking intently into them. After a moment of contemplative thought he said, “Are you on the guerdon of the Lord?” Now for someone born in the late Nineteenth Century this was a perfectly worthy and legitimate question to ask a young man but was phrased in an incomprehensible manner to me, of the later Twentieth Century.
A bit exasperated, I looked at Dad for some interpretation of such an archaic word as this and he said so wisely to me, “Say, yes.” Quickly, I said, yes! This satisfied Brother Hedge and he now approved my bona fides. With seventy years of seniority, while I was still in the bloom of youth in my twenties, clearly showed me what he had offered in the practical and faithful service of the Lord. Even in his diminished capacity at this time, he brought home to me the level of his lifelong sacrifice for the cause of Christ. I’ll tell you, there was a moment here for me that was genuinely like “ships passing in the night.”
They talked quietly for several more minutes as I stood and watched them. After awhile they strolled around the garden seemingly inspecting the plants and produce and nodding in agreement about many things I was not privy to hear as the two old confidants wandered about. And so the time of our visit was eventually spent. After Dad said his goodbyes to Brother Hedge and we were on our way home I asked him “what in the world” does the word “guerdon” mean?
He said, “Well, Brother Hedge was asking you if you were on the Lord’s side.” Dad, a lover of words his whole life also added that guerdon was a very old Germanic/French word that probably refers to the reward a knight received from his lord for his military service. The spiritual application of this was to learn if I was the Lord’s man or not.
You know, I had sung the old hymn many times, “Who will follow Jesus, who will make reply, I am on the Lord’s side; Master, here am I!” Now, this makes me think of Mt 12:30, “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” But I remember thinking then, “Hmm, no one has ever actually asked me that before.”
Brother Hedge died in the next few weeks and Dad went to his funeral. I could not go because it conflicted with my work schedule as work so often does.
For many reasons over the next several months I drew closer and closer to the notion of being a preacher of the gospel; something I had never before really desired. Why? Any good soul who serves the Lord has to come to terms with his attitude toward the world and how the world’s attitude in turn affects him. However, if you decide to be a preacher of the gospel you have to resolve that wealth and security are not going to be in your future; at least not in this life. Those who have figured out a way to have a degree of wealth and security and still be faithful in their service make me think of the Lord’s foreknowledge of such carnal mindedness, Ps 37:7, “Rest in the LORD, and wait patiently for him: fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way, because of the man who bringeth wicked devices to pass.” Just like the Pharisees of old, many brethren who would be preachers of the gospel, think too much of themselves and come up with their own imagined “loopholes” in God’s word. They fully believe their “loopholes” give them rights to things they have no right to obtain; trusting in uncertain riches (1Tim 6:17). The gospel preacher who truly puts God first must also say goodbye to the desire for riches that our entire culture and society put first before God.
Another thing is that everyone you know will think of you differently from now on. No longer are you “just a good ole boy.” Some preachers try that tactic but it always rings shallow and cheapens what gospel preachers are (1Tim 6:11, “But thou, O man of God, flee these things.”). Though we may know several like this, we “men of God” are not like silly organ grinder monkeys tipping our hats for earthly gain and the approval of ungodly men. We are not the denominational concept of the performing clergyman with their soft words intended to scratch the itching ears of those whose intent is really the perverting of God’s will for man; repeating the reassuring lies of their man made creeds that only damn the souls of the lost who have trusted in their words; whose side they have willingly chosen and in reality are not God’s men but in the service of none other than Satan.
Rather, it suddenly seems the nobler course to realize that your decision to preach the gospel is one in which you have no need to be ashamed. Like the knights of old, your quest is the service of your Lord, to whom you owe all allegiance and honorable due service (Jn 12:26, ”If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour; 1Cor 16:13, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong;” 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”). When one chooses to be on the Lord’s side one has chosen to be with the Lord both in life and in death (Gal 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me;” 2Tim 2:11, “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him;”), in burial (Col 2:12, “Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead”).
If I am the Lord’s man, whether a preacher of the gospel or any one of the faithful who decide to serve Him without being a preacher, I know that He will reward me according to His rich promises (1Pt 5:4, “And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away”). I can now be fully resolved that being on the “guerdon” of the Lord is what He wants from me. It is also fully what I want; to be His man; rewarded in the way only He rewards.